Speak Up

I’ve noticed that people say, “The number one factor to (fill in the blank) is TRUST.” Really? If trust is so important why do people not eagerly study and learn everything about trust and then make it happen?

I’ve actually documented those articles that have been written about “trust” or “being trustworthy” are not as popular as other leadership topics. Why?

Road Block to Trust

One common barrier is simply the word “trust.” In many organizations, it’s so overused that team members don’t seem to know what it means. What’s worse, they often do not see trust in action. For example, just yesterday an individual told me they finally gained the courage to speak up and were shot down by others. So much for trust being #1!

Ironically, although trust is one of the most common core values that companies aspire to, if you walked into any given workplace, you would rarely see managers discussing the importance of trust with their employees.

Instead, you’re more likely to hear discussions related to productivity topics and later behind closed doors statements like, “I don’t know if I trust him to do that,” or “I’ve got to follow up and check on them to see if they follow through.”


When this is the general atmosphere in the workplace, the results can be disastrous. Productivity will undoubtedly suffer, and what will be left for the manager to do is keep tabs on his or her employees—in essence, to baby-sit instead of building teams that run the business.

Time to Self-Reflect


The lacking of witnessing trust in action can become a vicious cycle if managers are not careful and that is often how an “us” and “them” environment takes hold. But there is a way to get out of the reactionary loop and build a foundation of trust. Take a minute and ask yourself these questions: Do my word and actions inspire others to trust me? Be honest.

Would others say I am good at:

  • Listening?
  • Accepting responsibility?
  • Practicing confidentiality?
  • Mutually supporting everyone in the organization?

The following are tips on how to increase 4 specific behaviors that build trust between you and others. Think through how to implement each action with a person that you might not be getting results with.

Listen, Listen, and Listen

Start having a two-way conversation today with a difficult person and see what kind of response you receive—all you have to do is really work on listening. Let the person know that you are there for them when they have problems, concerns, or questions. When they do come to you, don’t start doing all the talking. Listen to what they have to say then respond logically rather than emotionally.

This sounds a lot easier than it actually is. When we hear something we disagree with, it’s a natural reaction to elevate our voices and be quick to make our point. However, as leaders, we must instead stay calm, open, and understanding of the other person’s point of view.

We must continue to listen rather than interrupt, shoot the messenger, or try to explain away whatever the problem might be. When team members choose to speak up and talk to you, they are taking a big step toward showing that they trust you; they are helping you to start building that foundation.


Whatever the topic might be, whatever issue they have decided to bring to you, wait for them to finish their thoughts before you say anything, and make sure that your response is not reactionary. Think things through before you talk; you’ll be surprised at how this one small action can turn the tide of any heated conversation.

Accept Responsibility

When we’re feeling under pressure ourselves, it’s easy to try to throw the blame for whatever problems exist onto somebody else. We can complain about people in other departments or locations; it’s better when they’re not around to defend themselves.

We can also blame our own team members if we have to—for not following through, not meeting deadlines, not returning phone calls, or not sharing work related information.

Instead of making excuses take ownership of whatever situations arise. When confronted by difficult issues stop and ask: “What can I do to rise above the circumstances?” Take a look at yourself first, review your own actions and habits, and proceed to change whatever necessary to achieve better results.

Often, during this self-examination, leaders find that their first shortcoming is not sharing enough information with others. Perhaps they accidentally held back pertinent details that caused the process to go less smoothly than it otherwise might have. When this happens approach others directly and say, “You know, I think there’s something that I failed to tell you. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get that particular project completed on time.”

This sort of behavior will undoubtedly feel refreshing to team members that are used to reactive communicators who would normally just say, “We constantly have a lack of communication around here. When is it going to get better?”

Practice Confidentiality

Every organization has a rumor mill, whether it wants one or not. Gossip is generated by team members reacting with fear to unfavorable situations. People are generally afraid to go directly to the source of a problem to confirm fact or fiction and decide for themselves what is true. Lacking this pertinent information, they jump to conclusions and create conspiracies when, in actuality, there’s nothing there.

Leaders have the ability to stop the rumor mill in its tracks by being the role models their team members need. Instead of listening to gossip or passing on potentially false information, leaders go directly to the source to find out the truth about what happened. When other team members see this taking place, they will be encouraged to do the same—with each other and with you as well.

Mutually Support All

There is no chain of command when it comes to building trust; in this case, the playing field is level. Everyone deserves to be trusted regardless of your position or theirs.

Effective leaders are well aware of this, and so they make sure they interact with all of their team members equally, and support one employee’s efforts just as much as the next one’s. It takes everyone to get results, and everyone must feel that sense of equality and trust if you want them to be motivated to succeed.


People that exude trust know that it’s smarter to focus on what’s best for the team, not what’s best for self. They are outwardly focused and flexible, willing to help anyone on the team who needs a hand—as well as teams in other areas of the organization. In order for an organization to be successful, everyone must feel as though they have a stake in the outcome of their work.

This begins with trust—which you can’t expect team members to feel if you play favorites or put your own ego first. Mutual support will earn you mutual trust, and that’s what it takes to get results.

Putting It All Together

Think for a moment about the people within your organization whom you trust. The odds are excellent that these people exhibit all four of the trust behaviors we discussed above: listens, accepts responsibility, practices confidentiality, and mutually supports all. Do you? Try putting all four trust actions to work right now and you will see a difference—possibly even before the day is over.

How Can You Implement Trust in Your Employees?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.